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ABC of Nutrition: E

After the hard to digest themes of the last days, I thought I better go easy today.

E is for: Eggplant

Botanically speaking this thing is a berry...can you imagine eating this in your musli? Yeah, me neither. Plants are funny.
And I am all about the fun, so did you know that 9 Kg of these purple buggers contain the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette? That's a lot of aubergines to smoke, and I prefer eating them anyway. Aubergines are low on pretty much everything: Barely any lipids, carbs or proteins. Nor many vitamins or minerals. However, they are pretty okay when it comes to manganese. So if your child does not like eggplants, it is alright, not much to miss, I guess. Unless...well, it can taste pretty amazing. There are two secrets to delicious eggplants: one, remove some water by salting the cut eggplants, let them sit, then dry the water off with a paper towel. And two, fry them a tad before you cook them. The Greek know how to deal with them, just look at Moussaka, or battered and fried eggplant pieces. BBQed with garlic butter or olive oil, they are delicious. A great Turkish recipe (fainting imam, Imam Bayildi) is to fill the aubergine with mince meat and grill or bake it in the oven. The Sicilians make some mean pasta sauces out of them, and I just found more recipes in one of my cookbooks which are Chinese stir fried eggplant in garlic sauce and eggplant Sezchuan style. Glad that I have an eggplant waiting in the fridge, I guess.


E is for Vitamin E

Okay, I lied, this is not that easy. But bear with me, I try to explain as good as I can. There is a group of molecules called tocopherols and tocotrienols. Some tocopherols/ tocotrienols have vitamin E activity, but not all of them. And this lies at the heart of much confusion and weird results in the scientific world, because some scientists did not check or forgot to include the exact nature of the tocopherol they used, or they used different mixtures with different activities. The name tocopherol comes from Greek, because it was found that rats needed these chemicals to carry their pregnancy to term. There are two main tocopherols, alpha and gamma, and the body treats them differently. While alpha is the main Vitamin E one, the US diet is enriched with gamma. The E numbers are E306-309, all used as antioxidants to prevent fats from getting rancid. In cells, tocopherols work as antioxidants, similar to beta-carotene. It is a long chained molecule, which means it can catch stray oxidant radicals and keep them from damaging the fatty acids in cell membranes. The tocopherol is then repaired by ascorbic acid. Healthwise, tocopherols can prevent damage from heart attacks, modulate immune cells (less inflammation), and also decrease blood clotting (which can also be a problem, so be careful).

Alpha-tocopherol: The main vitamin E with the highest (?) activity. It is fat soluble, which means that it is taken up in the gut with all the other lipids, and transported straight to the liver. The body loves this version, it has developed special transporters to enrich cells with it. In the body, it is transported in the very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), while the other tocopherol forms are kicked out of the body via bile pretty fast. The best sources for alpha-tocopherol are olive-, wheatgerm- and sunflower oil, and hazelnuts. Intake of alpha automatically reduces gamma, because alpha is favored by the body. The RDA is only for alpha.

Gamma-tocopherol: Mostly found in cornoil and soy oil. It may have profound health effects, too: It appears to be way more anti-inflammatory than alpha, because it inhibits some pro-inflammatory enzymes. It is also inversely correlated to heart attack risks: people with heart attacks have lower gamma than people without heart attacks. Same with cancer. But sadly, as mentioned above, some things are just not researched as well as it deserves. My favorite talk I heard on a conference was about how gamma limited brain damage from strokes in dogs, and how dramatic the healing process was sped up.

To sum it up: fat is not bad, it might have some hidden goodies in it, like the tocopherols. And since the scientists have not yet agreed on what does what, eat some raw nuts, and use all kinds of oils to get a bit of everything.


Tomorrow: F

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